More than 4.7 million people each year are bitten by dogs, and up to 1 million individuals seek medical treatment for dog bites. According to one study, approximately 50% of children between 4-18 years of age reported to have been bitten by a dog.
The vast majority of victims were bitten by a dog that they knew, not a stray dog roaming the streets. Dog bites account for 15% of home-owners insurance claims, totaling $317.2 million in 2005, at an average of $21,200 per claim.
Veterinary behavior specialists at UC Davis explain that any dog can bite, and no guarantee exists that a dog, having bitten, will never bite again—even after extensive behavior modification. Biting is part of a dog's "vocabulary." However, many cases of aggression can be helped with appropriate diagnosis, behavior modification, and owner education designed to reduce the risk of bites.
Adults and children can learn to avoid or deal with situations that might lead to dog bites.
The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine joins the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Humane Society of the United States in reminding pet owners and other members of the public how to avoid dog bites.
Doctor Melissa Bain, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and chief of the Behavior Service at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, reminds us of the following safety tips:
If you own a dog
· Learn about dog bite prevention, including the basics of responsible ownership and veterinary care.
· Never leave a child or baby alone with a dog without direct adult supervision.
· Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to socialize your puppy and keep it healthy.
· Introduce animals to new situations gradually.
· When out and about, be aware of others around you; obey leash laws.
· Neuter your pet, as it may help reduce some aggression in dogs.
· Learn to read your dog’s body language so that you will be aware of potential situations that could lead to aggression.
· Teach young children to be cautious and respectful around dogs, staying away from strange dogs and asking owner permission before petting an unfamiliar dog.
Respect a dog’s behavior tendencies
Whether or not they own pets, adults should teach children to respect a dog’s natural instincts. Do not disturb an animal that is eating, resting, or caring for its puppies.
If you encounter an aggressive dog
· Stay still and calm. Children can learn to stand very still and "be a post" or "be a rock" until the animal leaves.
· Stay quiet, or speak in a low, firm voice.
· Avoid eye contact with the animal.
· Try to put something between you and the dog. If you are on a bicycle and a dog chases you, stop the bicycle and dismount. Use the bicycle as a barrier between you and the animal.
· Back away slowly, and remain facing the animal until it is gone.
· If you fall or are knocked down, curl into a ball and use your hands and arms to protect the face, neck and head.
Understanding an animal’s natural behaviors is an important step in training pets and strengthening the human-animal bond. The School of Veterinary Medicine's Behavior Service, http://www.vmth.ucdavis.edu/vmth/services/behavior/behavior.html, provides consultation and behavior therapy for a wide range of behavioral problems in companion animals. Veterinary behavior services are available in two locations--in Davis at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and in Southern California at the UC Veterinary Medical Center - San Diego (inside the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of San Diego).
Davis: (530) 752-1393
San Diego: (858) 875-7505
Appointments may also be arranged through your veterinarian.
Who is most likely to be bitten by a dog? The Centers for Disease Control Web site contains detailed information on dog bites, a serious public health problem, including statistics on dog bite injuries and deaths, who is most likely to be bitten, and other information. http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/biteprevention.htm